planes produced, starting in March, 1942.
P-47D specs: 430 MPH, eight 50 caliber machine guns
Robert S. Johnson and the P-47
When Robert S. Johnson first saw a Thunderbolt, it was love
at first sight. The P-47B was a giant with a 2,000 horsepower engine; not
very pretty on the ground, but every inch a powerful machine, rugged and
sturdy with all the mass of a tank. He scrutinized the tremendous
four-bladed propeller. In each wing rested four 50 caliber machine guns,
giving the Thunderbolt the ability to throw 7,200 rounds of lead per
He had a chance to check out the P-47 at Bradley Field:
I hit the starter switch. Deep inside her belly the
Thunderbolt groaned, a straining rumble sounding for all the world like a
giant dynamo coming alive. Ahead of me the four propeller blades turned
slowly, then began to move faster as the Pratt & Whitney gained in power.
The rumble increased in pitch, the blades became a blur. Suddenly the
cranking and rumbling vanished, to be replaced by a tremendous, throaty
roar, a bass of power such as I'd never heard. I cracked the throttle
forward a fraction of an inch and the fighter sang of power, a symphony of
thunder, alive and ready to howl at the slightest movement of my fingers.
He took the plane up, nearly killing himself when the heavy
canopy bar slid back and smashed his head. But he got the ship in the air
and it howled its way up into the sky. He soon learned that "unless we
plunged nose first into the ground, we couldn't hurt the Thunderbolt".
It could take the stress of any aerobatic maneuver. The pilots of the 56th
Fighter Group grew to trust the fighter, knowing they could subject it to
any demands of aerial combat.
After he arrived in England in early 1943, he saw his first Spitfire and
compared it to the Thunderbolt. The differences were amazing. The P-47 was
a giant, massive weapon; the English fighter was lithe and rapid, with the
agility to dart in and out of battle. The RAF pilots warned the Americans
that their huge Thunderbolts would be sitting ducks against the
Messerschmitts and Focke Wulfs. They were wrong. The tough Thunderbolts
more than held their own against the Luftwaffe.
One day in late June, 1943, Johnson's Thunderbolt was hit early in the
mission and then helplessly subjected to an Fw 190's machine gun fire on
the way home. You read about this famous story in the Robert S. Johnson
article on this site. Somehow, incredibly, the P-47 absorbed this
battering from the German guns and made it back. After the injured Johnson
had landed his plane at the Manston emergency strip, he surveyed the
damage it had taken, and later described the result in his autobiography,
There are twenty-one gaping holes and jagged tears in the
metal from exploding 20mm cannon shells. I'm still standing in one place
when my count of bullet holes reaches past a hundred; there's no use even
trying to add them all. The Thunderbolt is literally a sieve, holes
through the wings, fuselage and tail. Every square foot, it seems is
covered with holes. There are five holes in the propeller. Three 20mm
cannon shells burst against the armor plate, a scant inch away from my
head. Five cannon shell holes in the right wing; four in the left wing.
Two cannnon shells blasted away the lower half of my rudder. One shell
exploded in the cockpit, next to my left hand; this is the blast that
ripped away the flap handle. More holes appeared along the fuselage and in
the tail. Behind the cockpit, the metal is twisted and curled; this had
jammed the canopy, trapping me inside.
The airplane had done her best. Needless to say, she would never fly
Johnson had great success with the Thunderbolt, shooting
down 27 German planes over Europe while flying the rugged fighters.